Thursday, November 27, 2008

asking the questions

Werner Herzog is a fascinating director. He creates documentaries that are unlike any other. While other drirectors tackle recent issues, he makes documentaries that deal with the big issues in life. His latest film deals with the question, "Why would somebody leave it all behind and decide to work and live at the South Pole?". He visits a base at the Pole, he asks the questions and we meet a unique group of outcasts (scientists, plmbers, truck drivers) who are driven to live outside the norm. They all wanted to escape. They are people who did not fit in and took a drastic way out.

The concept is better explained when Herzog shows us a penguin who for some unknown reason, leaves the flock and decides to head for the mountains. Herzog tells that even if we got a hold of the penguin and placed back in the flock, it would head for the mountain (and certain death) again. He asks, is the penguin crazy? A big question, indeed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

giving thanks

Here I am watching 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving", realizing how fast this year has gone by. This year saw me learning to walk again after my knee injury. I went to France for a month. Visited relatives in Mallorca. Went to New England.
Lost my job. Worked on my own. Took photos. Wrote a little.
All this in a year.
Reasons to give thanks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I remember when I used to make fun of people who were not up to date in terms of pop music. To me, it was inconceivable that they were not aware of what was going on in the Top 40 world. Well, these days I look at the Top 10 and I don't know anybody. Well, I do know Beyoncé because of her sexy videos. But that is it. Who are these people making music now? The easy way is to say, well, Top 40 is crap these days. Now like when I was a teenager or a twentysomething. Which makes me sound exactly like the people I would make fun of all those years ago.
But. it's ok. I will keep listening to the oldies, to classical, to jazz. There is still plenty to discover in those worlds. Maybe it's the way of the world. Getting older. Maybe musically wiser.

Friday, November 21, 2008

murder and nice people

Call me corny. But I am becoming hooked on a genre called "cozy mystery". These are books featuring Agatha Christie-typ detectives working in small towns. My favorite now is Hamish Macbeth, a detective that appears in a series of novels by M.C. Beaton. These are cool, little mysteries that show the dark side of a small town, but that also stress the decency of most people. Whether that idea is true or not does not matter. The important thing is that they make for wonderful late night reading. In a world of horrendous things going on, there is some comfort in tales of murder and decency.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There is something about the beach in the morning that is hard to describe. The sunlight, the calmness.

forbidden movies

When I was a kid I was really intrigued by the “forbidden movies” of the time. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s some movie theaters specialized in adult movies. These were mainly the Cinema Condado (next to the Chinese restaurant, near the Condado Beach hotel, its lobby faced the lagoon), the Miramar (now Fine Arts) and the Excelsior (now ‘El Josco”). I recall seeing the movie posters while walking around and wondering what the fuss was all about.

I had to wait quite a while to finally see these movies. The VCR and late night cable tv made some of these movies available to everyone. So I saw many of them.

One of the first ones I saw was “Emmanuelle” starring Sylvia Kristel. This one played at the Cinema Condado for ages, and I mean ages, it was there for probably close to a year.
It had a reputation for being a classy, couples oriented, sophisticated x-rated movie. And the excellent movie poster certainly portrayed that. It is one of the most creative movie posters of all time.

As for the movie itself, I guess it’s one of those things in which “you had to be there.” I imagine that in the early 1970’s, it was groundbreaking to see a movie that treated sex with some degree of seriousness. But the fact is that this seriousness can now be seen as pretentious and silly. The worst part is the air of terrible self-importance in every line and opinion about sex expressed in the movie.

The movie, of course, has Sylvia Kristel, a truly beautiful woman. So different from the generic porno actresses with fake boobs we see today in late night cable porn fare. She is a sight to behold. And her casual attitude towards sex and nudity is healthy, refreshing, endearing and oh, so European. She makes this movie watchable. This film would have been unbearable without her presence.

The movie was such a hit for Columbia Pictures (a mainstream studio doing “softcore-love the 1970’s!) that two more Kristel movies were made. There was also an onslaught of fake “ Emanuelle” with one “m” that were a pretty bizarre bunch. But to me, there is only one Emmanuelle, she has two “m’s in her name and her name is Sylvia Kristel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The other day I went to see the new James Bond movie and as usual had to watch the 45 minutes of ads that the bastards at Caribbean Cinemas inflict upon us. But that is not the point of this entry. It's just that watching them, I felt a million miles away from the industry that made them. I no longer thought, "which agency did that?" or " I could have done that better." I felt nothing. I felt just like the hundreds of people at the movie theater. I was just thinking to myself " When will this barrage of meaningless ads end?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monster times

When I was about 7 years old, I bought a magazine at the Totti’s Drug Store in Condado that made a huge impact on me. It was called “Famous Monsters of Filmland’. It was a magazine about horror movies, obviously aimed at kids. In it I learned about the new horror movies playing in theaters and about the old ones sometimes I could catch on tv.
I learned about old movies stars Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and about people like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price who were still active in those days. In a way, my life long love affair with movies began with that magazine.
The magazine was published by a true film fanatic and collector called Forrest “Forry” Ackerman, a man who influenced the life of millions of kids, including people like George Lucas, Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg.

I just read that Uncle Forry is very ill these days. Here’s hoping for a recovery from a kid who discovered your magazine and was made happier by it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

the extraordinary in the ordinary

A few months back I was browsing books at Borders when I came across a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver. I had heard of him, but had not read anything by him. So right there I read one of his short stories. And I fell in love with his writing. I took the book home and actually read the book slowly, savoring each word and loving every story. His world was one of normal, everyday people. No one was extraordinary or did anything extraordinary. The beauty of his tales was that in his tale of simple, ordinary people he created magic. I am in awe of how he did it.

So this week I bought at Borders a DVD of "Short Cuts', a Robert Altman film that takes Carver's world to the screen. And it is such a wonderful movie. It is a tale of various people in LA and how they deal with, well, the everyday. It is such an intelligently done movie with none of the corny things that were present in something like "Crash". This movie is 3 hours long and yet, it leaves you wanting more. I am in awe of how Altman did it.

Unfortunately, both Carver and Altman have passed away. It would have been amazing to have seen another Carver set of stories brought to the movies by Altman. But, still, we have this masterpiece of a movie. We should be thankful for that.

college fund raising

When will my old alma mater realize that I am never going to be sending them money?
I have been ignoring their mailings for 25 years. It’s not like I am suddenly going to change my mind and become a part of the alumni drive. I have my reasons for not sending them money. Some having to do with the lousy way students were treated there. Some having to do with the extremist political ideology that permeates the place. Some having to do with the fact that I rather give my money to more worthwhile causes.

But still, every 3 months the envelope is there in my mailbox. And five minutes later it’s in my trash can.

Friday, November 14, 2008


The days seem to be going by faster than ever. It’s already mid-November. I have been working freelance for half a year ever since I was laid off in May. I seem to be very happy about this way of working. I am meeting new people, working on different accounts. When I have days off, I have my own routine. I write, take some photos, have a cup of coffee at Starbucks while browsing the Net. Spend a morning at Borders before the crowds go in. Watch movies. Study movies. Read. I call friends for lunch. I am never bored. There was a world out there that I was not enjoying because of the ridiculous hours in the advertising industry.

When work comes along, I am happy about it. I go to the agency or company and work.
If I like the place, great. If I don’t, it’s alright…I work there for a few days, get my money and leave. No commitment. It’s a nice deal.

I have been traveling a lot these past months. I have been to France, Mallorca, Madrid, Boston, the Berkshires, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine. I have seen truly beautiful places. I have enjoyed the wonderful colors of autumn for the first time in 24 years.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


When I was in high school I had a friend who was obsessed with cars. This obsession translated into many instances of reckless driving that placed out lives at risk and to taking our group of pals to movies about people obsessed with, well, cars.

Of course, he dragged us to the Paramount theater in Santurce to see “The Gumball Rally”, a movie about an illegal cross-country race. It featured then cool guy (I guess) Michael Sarrazin and an unknown actor called Raul Julia. I remember kind of liking the movie, but I don’t recall whether I really did or if I was just being nice to my friend.

Thanks to the magic of DVD I was able to see this movie again 34 years later and decide for myself. And here’s my verdict.
1. It is a fun movie if you keep your expectations low. Very low.
2. Raul Julia shows his star quality really early in his career. He steals the movie as an egotistical, incredibly self-absorbed Italian driver.
And finally, the movie is better than its rip-off, Burt Reynolds’ “Cannonball Run”, which is, of course, no great accomplishment.

Still I am not sure how I feel about it. Maybe because time has made me nostalgic about movies of the 1970’s. But mostly, because it reminds me of my teenage days and of my long lost friend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On reunions

My high school class has a Facebook group. And it has been interesting to see how people who had not seen each other for 30 years suddenly reunited online. For a few days, everyone exchanged memories of that teacher, or that student. It was a fun, touching experience. But suddenly everyone stopped writing.

And it has been the same with friends that one sees again after many years. One runs into them at the mall, one asks about a couple of common old friends and one says “Bueno verte.” With the promise, of course, of “meeting for lunch.” And one goes on with life.

It seems that both online and in real life, there is only so much one can talk with old friends and acquaintances. There are the old stories, the old memories, the common friends. But the truth is we have grown apart irremediably. We can talk for a few minutes. But that’s it. We have moved on and made a new life, new friends. The past is nice , but the idea of rekindling old friendships is unrealistic. Like Paul McCartney once said about the Beatles getting back together, “You can’t reheat a soufflĂ©”. Well, actually, you can try, but one should always be ready for disappointment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering all who died…

From photos taken during my visit to Normandy, France this past June 5th.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Home movies and more

Anyone remember Super-8 movies? This was the film format used for taking home movies. It worked just like regular film used in motion pictures but had a lower quality and resolution. Parents used to buy a Super 8 camera and shoot birthdays, trips and all that sort of thing. Kids, well, we used to shoot movies with them. Because the fact is that many kids and teenagers had a lot of fun with those cameras and one could even edit the material (cutting it literally). In high school, some friends and I shot a movie in which our high school principal (we shot her footage secretly) was in reality a serial killer. It was 15 minutes long and a lot of fun to make.

Well, some people took the “let’s all make a movie” concept one step further and shot what is basically a monster home movie with some cool stop animation and titled it “ The Equinox”. A producer bought the film and added more footage and released it to theaters as “Equinox”. It’s a truly unique story and DVD distributor Criterion Collection, known for artsy fare, gave it a two DVD royal treatment.

It is truly an enjoyable experience. It includes both versions of the movie, interviews, other projects by the teenagers that made the movie. There is something very unique here.
It’s a DVD to see on a Saturday afternoon, while enjoying a few soft drinks and plenty of popcorn.

Order it from Netflix. Or catch the theatrical version that is playing on Showtime these days. But with that version you miss most of the fun that is included in the Criterion release.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Prime Cut

One of the great things about DVD is that you can discover forgotten movies. And this weekend I discovered a great one. It's called "Prime Cut" starring Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman and Sissy Spacek. It's one of those movies that could only have been made in 1972. It's a gangster movie set in America's Heartland. And it's central message is expressed in an exchange between Marvin and Hackman " Humans, cattle...what's the difference?" "There is a difference.".

This is a terrific movie full of every un-PC thing you can imagine. The movie begins with titles imposed over scenes showing you how cattle are killed and turned into ground beef. It has violence, nudity and a total sense of nihilism that is hard to match. And the idea of setting the movie in Missouri showed the dark side of small towns way before David Lynch made "Blue Velvet".

Lee Marvin is amazing as a paid Mafia man (the good guy here!), Gene Hackman is great as the mand running a cattle operation and a prostitution ring and Spacek (in her film debut) is touching as an innocent Midwestern girl forced into becoming a prostitute.

I loved this movie.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Remembering "American Graffiti"

Before he destroyed serious American cinema with “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, George Lucas was a director of small movies. Like people such as Peter Bogdanovich, Brian De Palma and William Friedkin, Lucas was a child of early 1970’s American cinema that sought to create more personal movies.

His first hit was an interesting nostalgic look at the rituals of “Pre-Beatle” American youth called “American Graffiti”. It was a movie that basically took place in one night and in it we see the lives of different teenagers cruising the streets in search of fun, booze, romance, sex.

In this movie we see many actors that were later to be pop culture favorites such as Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Susanne Sommers, McKenzie Phillips, Kathleen Quinlan, Kay Lenz and many others. It is light movie full of great songs. It is a look at the United States before Vietnam. It portrays an era innocence that will never occur again. It is a funny, sad, wonderful film. A small, quiet movie from a director that would never make a small, quiet movie again.

“American Graffiti” played at the old Cinerama theater in San Juan and is now playing on premium cable this month along with its forgotten sequel “More American Graffiti” which takes a look at the late 1960’s and which Lucas did not direct.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

a great Tuesday

It was a night to remember. Locally, Luis Fortuno won by a landslide, freeing Puerto Rico from the inept hands of Anibal Acevedo Vila. And in the mainland, Barrack Obama won easily, freeing the United States from the inept hands of the right wing.

In both cases, people voted for change. For 8 years, Puerto Rico had suffered from two administrations that were unable to face up to the economic problems facing the island. In the last 4 years, we were lead by an erratic, lying governor who would do anything to save his skin. He created terror in the private sector by his constant shifting when it came to taxes and by his willingness to support extremist groups looking to paralyze the economy through illegal acts. He was also willing to lead the island into a collision course with the U.S., just to get some support for his criminal trial. Stability is the most important thing for an economic system to succeed and Acevedo Vila was instability personified.

Now we are going to be lead by an intelligent, resourceful governor. A PNP governor who has transcended the old image of PNP as close minded people and who is willing to reach out to others. A person with a stable sense of what he wants to achieve.

In the US. Well, we all had to fight tears when we saw the tv screens last night. We were looking at a great moment in history. The era of the United States as the bigoted bully is over. The United States showed the world that it is a more open nation than people thought. That it is embarrassed for the last 8 years and wants to begin again. The whole world is watching and dreaming.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

a movie that challenges you (imagine that)

We have reached the point in movies and literature in which every movie or book has to have one interpretation. It seems popular art has lost its ability to leave doors open to many explanations. This was going through my mind as I watching Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" the other day. Here is a movie that like "2001" lets the spectator create his or her own explanation of the events just witnessed. And, even though it takes some effort one can enjoy that type of movie or book.

Effort. Maybe that's the word. We want our pop culture to be easy to digest. To be simple. Good guy. Bad guy. CGI. The End. Your mind at rest. Your expectations at ease. Movies are things to escape to. My life is complex so my my movies have to be simple and reassuring.

"Persona" is a movie that makes us realize that there was a time when movies wanted to challenge an audience. Young people used to seek out these movies. The youth culture wanted the offbeat, the strange. Today the are looking forward to "Transformers 2".

So I am glad to have seeing this movie. And kind of sad that movies like these will never happen again.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

When baseball mattered (to me)

It’s interesting to see how meaningless the World Series has become in my life. I barely watched an inning of this year’s Fall Classic. But there was a time when I wouldn’t miss a game. In fact, when I was a boy, my grades would fall dramatically during those days.
It was the time of daytime World Series, when I used to get home just in time for the start of the game. It was the days of the Orioles (my favorite team then) and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Elrod Hendricks, Jim Palmer. It was the days of the Big Red Machine with Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose. Of the Pirates and Clemente, Stargell and Sanguillen. The World Series was a wonderful event before TV ratings decided that games would begin at 8pm and made it impossible for kids to see the whole game. Suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.